Saturday Deluxe / 30 September 2017

The art of the greatest hits

The news yesterday that Universal will issue yet a new Elton John compilation (called Diamonds) signified the start of the run up to Christmas and probably the first of many time-honoured ‘best of’ collections are that are now waiting in the wings.

The greatest hits. Loved by record companies, and people who buy their albums from supermarkets or petrol stations, but not normally admired by actual, proper fans. The reason is straightforward enough – more often than not, they’ve got everything already.

There are ways that labels can navigate around this. In the 1980s, they started adding new tracks to ensure that the diehards would still buy an album full of songs already in their collection. Examples of this are Kate Bush‘s 1986 compilation, The Whole Story which included Experiment IV and Paul McCartney‘s All The Best which (in the UK at least) included Once Upon A Long Ago.

Another way to make these sets interesting to fans is to include rare or new-to-CD versions of the songs. In other words, don’t just slap all the album versions of familiar singles on the compilation, but use actual single remixes, or promo edits; something that is probably not going to spoil the fun for the casual listener but will earn you some brownie points from the faithful.

Time and Again: The Ultimate a-haThe bonus CD with remixes and/or rarities disc is also occasionally deployed and is probably my favourite way for labels to enhance the greatest hits. A fairly recent example of this is a-ha‘s Time and Again compilation.

What Universal have done in the instance with Elton is two things. They’ve created a ‘limited edition’ version with enhanced packaging – a box set, basically – and they’ve allowed the artist to ‘curate’ a bonus disc in that set.

Often, when artists are involved in selecting track listings and ‘rarities’, it is normally a disaster. Elton is the man who decided getting other acts to cover his songs and putting them on the 2014 super deluxe edition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a good idea, after all. Anyway, Elton’s bonus disc is dull doesn’t really include anything particularly rare and is a bit heavy on the duets. Elton loves a duet.

So fans want rarities, but rarities don’t sell in big quantities. Big hits do sell, of course, although there have been so many Elton compilations that there’s bound to be an element of diminishing returns. All the more reason to put together something really intelligent that fuses the familiar with the unexpected. Diamonds isn’t that collection.

Read more about Diamonds here.

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Hi Paul. Spandau Ballet’s expanded edition of “Through the Barricades” was also released this week. Haven’t listened yet, but looking forward to it.


The best of the Best of’s must surely be The The’s 45rpm, particularly the version with the 12″ remixes on the second disc.

The worst of the Best of’s is probably the Stones’ Grrr!!!, the purpose of which after Forty Licks is baffling to me at least.


The worst ‘best-ofs’ are the budget ones that have basic artwork and turn out to be ‘re-recordings’. It may still be the original singer (or ‘members-of-the-original-group’ as it says on the blurb), but the ‘new’ vocal seems to lack the original passion and the backing track sounds like a cheap karaoke machine.

I’d like to see new/updated best-ofs from Bjork and Cyndi Lauper. They both have released a handful compilations (20+ each, which isn’t really a lot when you consider the length and breadth of their output), but Bjork has really only had ONE proper ‘hits/singles/best-ofs/etc.’ which is 15 years old. And all the Cyndi ones tend to just cover her 80’s output.

And of course, Kate Bush’s ‘The Whole Story’ which – even then! – wasn’t really the whole story. Like other people here, I’d love to see a 2 (even a 3?) disc compilation (including videos!).

Madonna – ‘Immaculate Collection’ and ‘GHV2’. Both are f’ing brilliant but still skipped quite a few singles each. Including material released since then, Madge could fill a 4 or 5 disc set just from singles alone!

But I have to admit, the title ‘Greatest Hits Volume 2’ really bugs the OCD nitpicker in me, because there isn’t ‘officially’ a ‘Greatest Hits Volume 1’! ‘Immaculate Collection’ is called ‘Immaculate Collection’ and nothing else…

@ChrisGa – different territories had variations of disc 2 of Whitney Houston’s ‘Greatest Hits’. A European/UK/Australian edition is the best way to get the uptempo tracks as single/album versions instead of remixes (they still have about 4 or 5 remixes, but the originals are there too).


If memory serves (and we are talking 30 years ago) the cassette version of New Order’s Substance was a double tape which had even more mixes than the LP and CD version. Would love to see that reissued as a CD box set.
PS I am well aware that New Order appear to have as many compilations out as original albums. One more can’t hurt ;-)

Mark Phillips

Surely there’s room on the market for a comprehensive Elton singles set. That’s never been done, and every compilation cherry picks from the hits and leaves others off. Eg passengers was a reasonable hit but is mainly conspicuous by its absence on most (not all) hits sets.

Also I know there was an excellent McCartney singles set of bootlegs. It’s about time a legal version of that came out too.

Chris B.

I will buy compilations by favourite acts for the sake of completeness but then rarely play them unless there is something particularly special.

My favourites are those which eschew the straight chronological run through the hits (backwards in the case of Genesis platinum collection!) and attempt to make a coherent narrative in its own right. Examples of this include:

Nick Drake, Way to Blue
Supertramp, Very Best of (you don’t really need anything else).
Simon and Garfunkel, Definitive: More comprehensive than Greatest Hits.
Plus, for all its faults, Kate’ s Whole Story (the Cd sounds horrible, wuthering heights is a rerecording and the fact that 31 years on, the title is just wrong!)

My bugbear are comps where the ‘greatest greatest hit’ is not present in it’s original form but is live or remixed: Whole story again. There was a very best of Joan Armatrading in, I think, 1991 that had love and affection remixed.

Final point on the ‘Christmas compilation’ is who is the act with the most compilations to the least actual output: My suggestion to start with, although I love his work, is Paul Simon (with and without Garfunkel)

Rob G

A few years ago I did a “Not On The Greatest Hits” list, just for a laugh. Some artists refuse to have certain of their biggest songs on a Greatest Hits/Best Of as they just don’t like them any more! Off the top of my head was:

REM – Drive
Bruce Springsteen – Tougher Than The Rest/57 Channels/I’m On Fire
Abba – Summer Night City
U2 – A Celebration
Madonna – Dear Jessie
Genesis – Keep It Dark
Thin Lizzy – Are You Ready
Kate Bush – Them Heavy People
Beastie Boys – She’s On It

Of course, some of these have now crept onto newer “Best Of’s” but fun to think about.
Anyone got any more?

Nik Yeomans

The Stranglers missed 5 Minutes (a number 11 hit) off their first compilation The Collection in 1982.

Nik Yeomans

Also Squeeze have an aversion to their Bang Bang single.

Albert Tatlock

Best greatest hits albums?

Scott Walker – Boy Child (1967-1970)
The Rolling Stones -Hot Rocks 1964-1971
The Beatles – 1967-1970
Happy Mondays – Loads
The Jam – Snap
Inspiral Carpets – Cool As…
Led Zeppelin -Remasters (now replaced by newer re (re-re)masters, but it was great when it came out)


Notable compilations for me:

Joy Division – Substance. One good reason to buy a compilation is to get great singles or b-sides that were not released on studio albums. JD Substance is the perfect example of this. No post-punk/new wave/modern rock music collection is complete without Digital, Transmission, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Dead Souls, and Atmosphere.

The Cure – Standing on a Beach/Staring at the Sea. The perfect introduction to The Cure for music fans the USA in the ’80s, and a great example of a gateway compilation that worked wonders for the band. Every Cure fan I know owned this album at one point in time.

Guided By Voices – Human Amusements at Hourly Rates. The GBV catalog is sprawling and wildly inconsistent. This disc of 32 songs is a great introduction to the band. I have listened to most of their albums in the ’90s and the ’00s, and the song selection is nearly perfect (including a handful of single and EP verisons that are better than the album versions). Also, the album itself is very well sequenced. Hearing the songs in the order compiled makes for a good listen, with the right mix of tempos and styles.


The best “best of” compilation is REO Speedwagon’s “A Decade of Rock’n’Roll”. This double-LP release from 1980 boiled down their (often uneven) catalog to 2 excellent discs, including new live versions of 157 Riverside Avenue and Riding the Storm out. These versions are the definitive recordings/performances of these 2 tracks.

Why is this the best? Because it truly relieves the casual fan from ever having to go any further. Pick up Decade Of Rock’n’Roll and High Infidelity, and you don’t need any other REO releases.

Russell Emberson

I used to like the greatest hits packages that had a DVD with the videos/live footage .eg Red Hot Chili Peps, Live & Sheryl Crow but seems a bit redundant with youtube now but still very welcome IMHO


I’d still rather have a factory pressed DVD/BluRay than rely on YouTube, since it’s just as easy to take the videos down as it is to put them up, and sometimes (even on the “official channels) the quality is not great. I miss when they used to remix the songs on the video collections into surround.


…as for the ‘worst’ compilations, surely the new Michael Jackson one ‘Scream’ is up there? Also, Queen’s ‘Deep Cuts’ series seemed pretty pointless to me. It’s a great idea in theory (and props to the band for actually releasing them), but let’s face it, if the casual fan was interested in the deep cuts, they would have bought the albums. If they didn’t buy the albums, they probably aren’t interested in the deep cuts…


I may be wrong, but Radiohead haven’t had a greatest hits/best of, have they?
I imagine that would sell big numbers – as would the holy grails of AC/DC, Metallica and Coldplay.
I imagine these bands are treating the greatest hits concept as a kind of retirement plan (particularly Metallica and AC/DC). Once they call it a day, they at least know that they have one more big-seller that they can rely on for income!

Ross Baker

Radiohead’s Best Of came out in 2008 after they left Parlophone. There was a version with a DVD of all the videos, which is usually the reason I end up buying these compilations (the best being Idlewild’s, which has a whole tour documentary, commentaries on the videos and all sorts – worthy of a DVD release of its own).

A couple of excellent examples for me are Blur’s Midlife and Suede’s Best of, both of which were selected by the band for reunions, and reflected both their biggest hits, but also the album tracks and b-sides that made the bands so beloved by their fans. Neither worthwhile owning for anyone seeking new material, but really excellent tracklists for newcomers and more casual fans.

O(+> Peter B

Oh and Kraftwerk have never had a compilation out other than one cruddy little cassette in th e80’s. Probably had nothing to do with them either. It goes from Radioactivity to The Man Machine. phhh


I’m still waiting for Beck to put a greatest hits out!!
As existing ones go, Bowie’s had his fair share. Nothing has Changed is great but omits certain other singles such as Cat People, Beauty and the beast. They should have followed it up with a compilation including all the other singles and called Everything Has Changed (just like the follow up lyrics on Sunday).

That would have been better than teh Legacy compilation where all you can here is the scraping of the barrel.


I wish U2 had done a proper greatest hits in chronological order instead of the dogs dinners they have served up previously, would have made for an excellent stand alone deluxe box set with a wealth of material. The DVD they released for the 1990-2000 greatest hits is just a mess of videos and hidden easter eggs you need indiana jones to help you to locate.


Substance and Legend are, to me, the canonical greatest hits albums. Great for the fans and the folks who just want the hits alike. Squeeze’s Singles – 45’s And Under is right up there as well.

One that wasn’t quite up to scratch was The Best Of The Talking Heads (nothing exclusive, plus leaving off Cities and I Zimbra in favor of Heaven and Memories Can’t Wait, really!?). Also, somehow no one has quite got Joy Division right.

Stevie B

I’d love to see Apple finally re-issue the Beatles 1966 ‘A Collection of Oldies’ Hits album on CD. Probably never will, but for completist such as me, it’s a nailed on certain purchase (both stereo and mono versions).


Some that I grew up with:

Bob Marley Legend, of course
Jimmy Buffet Songs You Know By Heart is another “all that most fans need”
Rush Chronicles
Skinny Puppy Singles Collect is excellent

Some bigger investments
Clash On Broadway
Jethro Tull 20 Years of

Jason Brown

Of course! Queen Greatest Hits #1 (and #2, TBH)
Abba Gold
Simon & Garfunkels Greatest Hits
Eagles Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975
Led Zep Remasters
Madonna The Immaculate Collection

So what defines a bad best of? Lazy selection? Blatant cash grab?

Chris Squires

Bad best of? For me it is glaring omissions allied to terrible sequencing. I tend to prefer chronological order…the only way I would sacrifice chronology is if a particular song is a bona fide side ender. This obviously pins me to the days before CD or at least when LPs were still the mainstream. As an example I give you my bête noire The Whole Story and the song Breathing. It is a side ender, in fact an album ender and a bloody great one at that. Nothing should follow it, it says everything, leaves you with a note fading to oblivion which is whole bloody point and then they stick on “Wow” which is from the previous album and ruins the whole atmospheric. I can understand if they had stuck it on the end of Vinyl side A so the CD does have something immediately following it, unavoidable, but they have it as track 4!

That is a bad decision and it makes you wonder who had control of it. EVERY greatest hits / singles / best of release should have a certificate of authenticity from a fan club member who signs off on it and the artist / management should be held at arms length. WE know what WE want, the artist / management rarely does or so, at least, it seems.


Props to Feeder who have just issued their new ‘Best Of’ compilation that actually comes with a bonus disc of 9 brand new tracks if you go for the 3 CD option.


I saw this 3disc version on amazon and had it delivered today, not listened yet but it looks excellent and great value at £10

Tony Orwell

Can Metallica have a greatest hits when not many of their songs have been hits, similarly with AC/DC and no doubt many others, this however would not stop them puting out a greatst songs comp which both would obviously nail.


Some of my favs for an update, all could do at least 2CD sets and/or 3CD deluxe editions:

Kate Bush
The Cure
Depeche Mode
Duran Duran
Pet Shop Boys

Adrian Slatcher

I was listening to vinyl of Al Green greatest hits yesterday, sublime. I do think a good greatest is a nice thing even for fans. Double CD of Substance by New Order made you for not being able to afford the 12″ singles as they came out. I think the CD ruined the best of in some ways, too long a running time for most bands. I’d love to see a brave label curate a good single LP on vinyl of a few bands. Also bands favourites change over time. Elton one should really find room for Amoreena for instance. A Coldplay best of would sell buckets I guess.


New Order “Substance” is a great shout for best best of. Love that album!

Also how about Pink Floyd “Echoes” anyone? For Me it was interesting to hear everything segued together. And of course that wonderful long “Shine On”

CJ Feeney

Substance is like the Red and Blue Beatles – a chance to get the many singles that don’t appear on the albums, and as such are essential for the “proper fan”.

Same goes for the Smiths compilations and to a lesser degree “Now That’s What I call Quite Good” by the Housemartins

Julian Bashford

Supergrass is 10
Prefab Sprout – A Life of Surprises
Beautiful South – Carry On Up The Charts
And of course, the definitive Queens Greatest Hits


Best: Roxette’s first Greatest Hits from 1995. Some rarer single edits from memory, and four new songs, two of which, “You Don’t Understand Me” and “I Don’t Want To Get Hurt” are sublime and amongst their best songs IMHO.


Roxette’s Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus is indeed stellar(not to mention one of the cleverest album titles ever).


The Best of the Ronettes & The Best of the Crystals compilations from the early 1990s are still two of my most treasured CDs, played nearly every month.

The original The Best of Blondie from 1981 allowed us kids to be cool even when we didn’t have the money to buy the albums. Actually, it’s still pretty much the only Blondie album you need.

The same can be said for Blur 21, New Order’s Substance and PSB Discography.

Ian Harris

It’s not even an original idea for Elton. His Greatest Hits 1970-2002 compilation came in 2 and 3 disc variants.

Jason Brown

Best Greatest Hits / Best Of (that I’ve heard)

Sisters Of Mercy : A Slight Case Of Overbombing
The Police : Greatest Hits
Iron Maiden : Best Of The Beast (2CD Version)
New Order : Substance
The Stranglers : The Hit Men

I’ll have to ponder worst…

Nik Yeomans

As the compiler of The Stranglers : The Hit Men, I commend your good taste :)

Sadly the Stranglers have been victims of far too many compilations. There are 86 listed on Discogs, some of which are extremely poor. I also find it quite strange that there have not been many ‘deluxe’ releases of their back catalogue although there is very little in the way of unreleased tracks in the EMI or Sony vaults.

paul kelly

white stripes haven,t had a grestest hits cd almost 20 years now and counting


Years ago, Bob Dylan’s ‘Greatest Hits’ was my gateway to his music, likewise Leonard Cohen’s ‘Best of’. For some artists, a compilation is all I want even though I consider myself a “proper” music fan.


No hits sets:
AC/DC and Metallica came to mind first. Had thought about Coldplay not having one recently as well. See those all above. Good call-out on Kraftwerk.

Others I can think of:
Nine Inch Nails
David Byrne
The Innocence Mission
A Johnny Marr compilation with solo/non-Smiths collabs would be interesting
Josh Ritter
The Sundays
Elvis Costello…wait, that’s wrong.

A newer Tom Waits comp would be nice


“Loved by record companies, and people who buy their albums from supermarkets or petrol stations, but not normally admired by actual, proper fans.”

Ah……music snobbery at it’s best. I think I’m a “proper fan” (whatever that is) of many artists, however a greatest hits/best of collection by someone who I’m not very familiar with or a big fan of is a perfect vehicle to enjoy that act’s music. In my case most recently with Nick Cave’s recent collection. Hope this explains things a bit, and thanks for belittling those who enjoy those collections.

Mister Stick

Great appraisal, Paul. With the kind of lengthy, busy career that EJ has had, you’d think he could deliver a fantastic ‘side tracks’ collection.

The value of ‘best of’ collections is always a fun chat. A lot of these cheapen the artist somehow, but I have fondness for some of the real classics in that category: ‘ChangesOneBowie’, ‘Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy’, ‘Rolled Gold’ (which we had to seek as import here in the US) and Stevie Wonder’s brilliant ‘Original Musiquarium’, with the bonus of 4 good new songs, each at the end of a sequed LP side. That record always lights up a party. So do the others mentioned, all with good-to-terrific covers and clever titles, wisely avoiding that silly ‘greatest’ appraisal. And, in each case, the band or artist was early enough in their long career that everything on each record is unimpeachable.

The big acts that are missing comps have been nicely cited above, and you have to like their dedication to keeping the album presentation of their work unmolested, though iTunes and streaming clearly break that down.

But don’t forget the value of a good comp as ‘gateway drug’. Nice article on this topic on Salon a while back (https://www.salon.com/2015/05/16/in_defense_of_the_lowly_greatest_hits_album_theyre_not_just_for_housewives_and_little_girls/) and check out Greil Marcus’s online “Ask Greil” column for some recent interesting comments about how some artists peak about the time of their first comp.

Thanks again, Paul.


The idea that Elton actually picked something from Victim of Love as part of a curated disc tickles me to no end.


Always find The Who and Townsend solo collections to be pretty good. They usually throw in some new tracks or hard to find vinyl only singles or 2. Rod Stewart is the same, many , many collections but usually something new and interesting for the fans


The whole “best of” thing is one of my pet bug bears. Artists who label these things “Singles collection” or similar are being honest at least, and are not implying any value judgement between singles and album tracks…

CJ Feeney

Greatest Hits implies lesser hits have been excluded. Dave Gorman fans may recall the routine in Modern Life is Goodish where he deconstructed Scouting for Girls Greatest Hits and ‘proved’ it should be a five track album rather than fifteen. He suggests the alternative title “every single we ever released plus two new ones we haven’t” which applies to most artist compilations these days.

At least Queen could justify the Greatest epiphet for I and II due to leaving off a few poorly performing singles.

Auntie Sabrina

Regarding no Greatest Hits, Kraftwerk


well, they had The Mix, and it was pratically a greatest hits

Amy L

Actually they do have a Best of out, Kraftwerk that is. It’s very short though and it should have been a 2-disc anthology

don cooper

I have a 2-disc Greatest Hits/Best Of Kraftwerk.Black cover/Green Lettering.European Issue.
It Rock’…I mean, Synthesizes!


Notably AC/DC and Metallica have no Best Of collections.


Husker Du and American Music Club , No hits of coure but both are sadly lacking in the compilation department.

Tom Waits really should have a multi-disc ” career spanning” box , as should Van Morrison.


Husker Du have a boxset coming out next month.


The Husker Du box issued by Numero Group is a essentially a collection of live tracks, demos and out-takes from the band’s infancy, although it includes a previously released single and EP. For what it is, it’s pretty good, but for hardcore (in every sense) fans only. I’ve only heard the audio so can’t comment on the packaging, but Numero usually does a nice job of that, as reflected in their prices.


Van Morrison’s superb 3cd edition of Still On Top from 2007 should qualify as a career spanning box IMHO.


Good article Paul…agree!


That third disc in the Diamonds deluxe should definitely have had some deep cuts, unreleased demos or live tracks that have not appeared before. IMHO, only uber fans like me would have considered getting the three disc anyway. As it stands, I would only get the book / packaging and no new music. I think To Be Continued got it about right on that front. Overall gutted about this, as in EJs and BTs 50th anniversary year I expected more.

Michael Fortin

‘To Be Continued’ is a great Elton compilation and one of my favorite sets. I also have the ‘Greatest Hits 1970-2002’ to expand that set out a bit since it ended at 1990. This ‘Diamonds’ set looks nice but not sure I need it. I am missing a lot of newer Elton but I’m pretty sure I have 99% of what I want.

Adriano Cristino

Will not be buying it because packaging alone is not enough to justify the purchase for me

Iain Mac

Nominations for the best “Greatest Hits”/”Very Best Of”/”Definitive” put out over the years (and maybe a worst ever too)?

CJ Feeney

Bowie – Platinum Collection (lots of single mix/edit tracks and a few rarities)
Genesis – Platinum Collection (A proper overview of the band and a hard to find single – Paperlate)
The Condensed 21st Century Guide to King Crimson

Those Dutch Universal 3CD collections.

Chris Squires

I can’t find fault with the fairly recent Nick Cave sets. Beautifully made, interesting choices (as a recent convert) and decent prices. That sits atop my thoughts, but as it is recent and I am not a long time fan, maybe there are faults I don’t know about.

As a long term fan, I found The Whole Story by Kate Bush to be a horrible listen. Unappealingly sequenced with an unnecessary “re-imagining” of Wuthering Heights.

Chris Squires

I should add to Nick Cave that I thought Tomb of Memories was superb too. I am a long term PY fan, right back to the Q-Tips and ToM pretty much hit the nail on the head. Unbiased and not at all creepin’ to the Management. It’s just good. End of. HOWEVER…. if it does have one fault it’s that I would want a 4LP 32 track (minimum) version of it like Pure McCartney. That would be excellent.


AC/DC are the only other major act I can think of that’s never had a compilation (and I don’t count Iron Man 2 as it was a film soundtrack!!)


Wasn’t Who Made Who part compilation plus they’ve had two boxsets out – Bonfire and Back Tracks.


Metallica never put out a compilation in 35+ years.


Coldplay are closing in on 20 years.


I keep hoping this will eventuate. Coldplay could really do with a compilation similar to the recent Nick Cave one, singles along with some good album tracks and B-sides, as well as the excellent single mixes of “The Hardest Part” and “What If”.

Maybe we’ll get something next year to mark 20 years since their first release as Coldplay….

Andrew M

Muse are around that too.


Best–Madonna, The Immaculate Collection. Not perfect as far as being absolute–even with fifteen bona fide classics, there were still at least five US Top 5 entries not included–but it did have the bonus of two strong new entries in her singles discog in the form of Justify My Love and the highly undervalued gem Rescue Me.

Worst–Whitney Houston’s two-disc Greatest Hits. The ballads disc was pristine, but the uptempo disc was all remixes, with none of the hits in either album or single edit. Big, big fail.